SAT Test Prep


Lesson 6: Organize Your Thoughts

Write a Quick Four- or Five-Point Outline

Once you have written a strong and creative thesis and brainstormed a good example or two, you are almost ready to write. Your last step should be to quickly organize the other three or four paragraphs. This outline should be very brief: Simply write one short sentence that captures the gist of each paragraph.

Writing a quick outline helps you to avoid one of the most common writing problems: redundancy. Students who do not plan their paragraphs usually end up repeating themselves too much; their essays don’t “go anywhere.” Good organization helps you to develop your thoughts. Once you’ve stated your thesis and example, what then? You have many options: you can explain your example in more detail, you can give another example, you can address an objection, and so on.

Understand the Function of Paragraphs

Think of paragraphs as “minichapters” of your essay. Each one must be complete in itself, but must also be part of a whole. When you start a new paragraph, you signal that you are doing something new: giving a new example, analyzing a new idea, presenting a counterargument, or the like. Your paragraphs give your essay structure. (For more on structure, see Chapter 4,

Lesson 3.) You might like a standard “top-down” (thesis at the beginning) structure:

Paragraph 1: State thesis and summarize reasons or examples.

Paragraph 2: Explain first reason or example.

Paragraph 3: Explain second reason or example.

Paragraph 4: Conclude with an extension or clarification of your thesis.

This is a simplification of the standard “fiveparagraph” essay structure. We have simplified it to four paragraphs, because five paragraphs may be too much to write in 25 minutes, and because most essays that get perfect scores have only four paragraphs. Writing more than four paragraphs is usually too hard, and writing fewer than four paragraphs indicates weak development.

You might also want to use a “bottom-up” (thesis near the end) structure like this:

Paragraph 1: Begin with a quick story that introduces the topic.

Paragraph 2: Analyze the significance of the story.

Paragraph 3: State and explain your thesis that follows from the story.

Paragraph 4: Generalize from this thesis and connect it to a broader scope of ideas.

There is no one “right” structure; choose the structure that works best with your ideas, your examples, and your style.

Practice 6: Organize Your Thoughts

Organization Review

1. What is the difference between a “top-down” essay structure and a “bottom-up” essay structure?

2. What should a good outline consist of?

Check your answers with the answer key at the end of the chapter.

Organization Practice

Spend a few minutes reading and brainstorming about each of the questions below. Then write a brief fourpoint outline with thesis, development, and conclusion. Capture just the essence of your argument, and be brief.

3. Is honesty always the best policy?





4. What is an example of true courage?





Discuss your outlines with your teacher or tutor, focusing on whether your outlines show good development.